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Minnesota Opinion: Maintain momentum to clean up Great Lakes

Congress doesn't agree on much, it seems, but when it comes to restoring the Great Lakes following decades of factory-spewing, sewage-oozing, industrial and wastewater pollution, Republicans and Democrats alike, in both the U.S. House and Senate,...

Congress doesn’t agree on much, it seems, but when it comes to restoring the Great Lakes following decades of factory-spewing, sewage-oozing, industrial and wastewater pollution, Republicans and Democrats alike, in both the U.S. House and Senate, seem to be able to agree about getting it done. Finally. Thoroughly.
Following a commitment to cleanup from the administration of President George W. Bush, annual federal funding for projects via the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative was launched in 2010. After an initial appropriation of $475 million, yearly allocations have stayed mostly steady at around $300 million, the amount originally targeted.
Now is a key moment for the federal commitment, the federal funding and the cleanup momentum to continue. Last week, U.S. House members voted for five more years of $300 million annual appropriations. The U.S. Senate hasn’t yet taken action, however. Minnesota’s U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken can lead the way on behalf of all Great Lakes states.
“Now is the time for Congress to act so that the federal government can continue to help communities restore the Great Lakes,” Jordan Lubetkin of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., said. “People understand how important healthy lakes are. Threats to drinking water in Flint, Mich., and two summers ago in Toledo, Ohio, underscore how important clean drinking water is - and the ongoing vigilance and investment needed to ensure that every citizen has access to clean, safe and affordable water.”
After so much support for Great Lakes restoration from the Republican Bush and President Barack Obama, a Democrat, “The next president needs to provide leadership as well,” Lubetkin opined. “However, there is no guarantee from the current crop of candidates that they will champion this issue.”
That’s why the five-year authorization now is so important. “That would make this a priority for the U.S. Congress moving forward,” Lubetkin said.
Closer to home, the Minnesota Senate’s bonding bill proposal this week included $12.7 million for the St. Louis River Estuary Restoration Project. Gov. Mark Dayton’s water quality bonding proposal included a similar amount. The state funding is critical because it would be able to be used to leverage, or to tap into, that federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. An additional $25 million is there right now for Minnesota’s taking.
The Minnesota House hasn’t released its bonding proposal yet. Even though it’s expected to push a smaller bill with a focus on roads and bridges, state House members, led by Duluth’s Reps. Jennifer Schultz and Erik Simon-son, can make sure Minnesota doesn’t miss out on these available federal funds.
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” St. Louis River Alliance Executive Director Kris Eilers said. “It is important to secure these funds this year. If Minnesota doesn’t take advantage of the … funding available, some other Great Lake state will step in and Minnesota will be on the hook for the total cost of cleanup for this area.”
“You leave $25 million in federal dollars on the table? That’d be just unthinkable,” added Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner John Linc Stine.
With heavy industrial plants lining its shores in the days before clean-water regulations and environmental protections, the heavily polluted but getting-cleaner St. Louis River was federally listed in 1987 as an “Area of Concern,” one of 43 around the Great Lakes. The state and federal funds available now would continue the cleanup work that’s expected to get the St. Louis River delisted by 2025. More specifically, the money would be used to remove or permanently seal contaminated sediment at the bottom of the river. Ten hot spots are identified.
“It’s an important investment that we get to make,” Linc Stine said. “If all the impairments are removed (from the St. Louis River), we can have recreational facilities alongside the commercial port and the industrial activity of all this international shipping. I think it would be one of the prime destination recreational resources in Minnesota.”
“This has tremendous potential for redevelopment and reinvestment for all of Duluth,” Linc Stine said. “I think there’ll be camping, kayaking, canoeing, boating, fishing, swimming and more. I think it’ll support all of that - and you can eat the fish.”
It can happen. Hey, if Congress can get together and agree on something, in this instance the need for Great Lakes restoration, then anything seems possible.

Related Topics: GREAT LAKES
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